A Frank noted last week, tonight from 5:00 to 7:00 PM, at Ballard High School, Sound Transit and SDOT are hosting an open house to study the possibility of high-capacity transit from Downtown Seattle to Ballard. I’ll be there, and I’m looking forward to seeing lots of you guys there.
It’s worth reflecting on the problems with today’s transit when trying to design tomorrow’s. Zach has a great post coming up soon, looking at the average end-to-end scheduled speed of Seattle’s transit routes; I won’t steal his thunder, but suffice to say, most of the non-freeway routes, except Link, are pathetically slow. I was inspired by that to look a little closer at a route that’s among the alignments to be studied in this open house, namely Metro route 40. What parts of this route are slow, and what can we learn from this?
The table above is mostly composed of data about one sample Route 40 trip, northbound in the PM peak; it’s time-point data from OneBusAway, travel lengths computed from Google Maps, and speed computed by dividing the two. One caveat upfront: anyone who’s ridden the 40 knows the real schedule can be mess, particularly if it’s a bad traffic day downtown; nonetheless, these are decent ball-park numbers. There are two other data points, from two of Portland’s rail lines as they cross the Portland city center at around the same time: the Portland Streetcar North-South route, and TriMet’s MAX
Red Green Line.
Here are some of my thoughts:
- Downtown is by far the slowest part of Route 40. Won’t be a surprise to anyone whose ridden a bus here, but downtown, and the downtown-like dense area that extends up to about Mercer Street, is just not a quick place to get around on a bus. To give a sense of how much of that is due to running on the street, Metro planners generally estimate it takes a bus five minutes less to travel the length downtown in the transit tunnel than an equivalent trip on the surface, so that’s maybe a 35-50% speedup, based on the first row of data above.
- Surface rail through downtown isn’t likely to be much faster. Even with well-optimized signal priority and a dedicated lane*, MAX is barely scheduled faster than Seattle’s surface buses. On a bustling, intimate, pedestrian-oriented street, there’s a limit to how fast a 30 ton vehicle can safely travel, and even excellent signal priority can’t guarantee you’ll make a dozen lights in a row. It seems unlikely that downtown Seattle will do much better, although Seattle’s blocks are longer, which may help.
- Where right-of-way is readily available, it barely matters. There are two places where surface right-of-way could easily be taken for (semi-)exclusive transit use: Westlake, north of Valley Street; and Leary, east of Ballard and west of Fremont. These streets are wide, have few signalized intersections and very little pedestrian activity, and traffic, including transit, moves pretty freely on them already. It doesn’t seem like ROW would make transit much faster, although signal priority could help by allowing transit vehicles to keep moving.
This is an open thread for anything related to the open house. See you there!
* The MAX Transit Mall is a pair of one-way streets, each with a painted transit lane and a general-purpose lane; this section of the streetcar runs in a curb lane in mixed traffic. All Portland rail services have off-board payment.